You’re surrounded by baristas, you’re on the next match, and you’re telling yourself: I do this every day at the coffee shop. Everything is going to be fine.
Then you start to pour a latte – and your hands begin to shake. Your heart’s thumping. You place your cup in front of the judges, without making eye contact because of the shame, and walk away.
And you can’t wait to do it again.
Yes, it’s a latte art throwdown: an event where baristas compete, head to head, pouring their best latte art in front of judges and, in some cases, specialty coffee enthusiasts and consumers. They can be competitive – and sometimes stressful – but they also create an opportunity for baristas to grow and for the coffee community to come together.
If you’re one of the unlucky ones who lives miles away from the nearest throwdown – or if they only happen infrequently and you just can’t bear the wait (we get you) – then we have the solution. Organize your own one.
Feeling intimidated? Don’t be. We’ve got the seven steps you can follow to create an exhilarating latte art throwdown. So get those milk jugs at the ready and start practicing those pours.
Select the Location
The success of your latte art throwdown rests on your choice of location. Your best bet will be a coffee shop or local roastery. It needs to have good (and that means well-cared-for) equipment and a design that will help the flow of the throwdown. It must also have have enough space to hold the competitors, judges, and guests. It’s okay – though not ideal – if you don’t have the best layout for everybody to see the pours, though. Just set up a camera and a projector.
You don’t want equipment that will stop working at the middle of the throwdown. Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Get some Sponsors
Forget money – you’re going to need milk and coffee for all those throwdown matches. You could also try reaching out to sponsors for cups and milk pitchers.
For coffee, contact local roasters. Depending on how many competitors are on the bracket, you might need only a few pounds. As for milk, speak to local providers. It’s usually not too difficult to find sponsors, particularly when you offer to add their company logo to the throwdown flyer and give social media shout-outs.
Yet if you don’t get answers or sponsors, keep doing the throwdowns – it’s possible. Do them for yourself and do them for your coffee community, because this kind of event benefits everyone.
That milk adds up, so try to get sponsorship. Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Set a Price
You could offer the winner a cash prize: in most latte art throwdowns, competitors pay a small fee to register and participate. Traditionally, the winner would then take home all that money.
However, baristas tend to get even more excited about receiving the latest coffee gear.
Try reaching out to sponsors, including the hosting shop and other local coffee businesses, and seeing what they can donate in exchange for brand exposure.
There’s one happy barista! Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Promote the Event
Promotion isn’t easy, but it’ll get you a full event with lots of baristas on the bracket and newcomers in the crowd. Word of mouth still works, but you’ll also need to get creative. Make a poster – the more inventive the better. Use social media. Put flyers in your local coffee shops.
Also, be persuasive. A lot of baristas will feel self-conscious and may convince themselves that they’re not ready to compete. A friendly word from you, however, could help bring new faces to the throwdown.
That got your attention, didn’t it?
Choose your Judges
Judges don’t necessarily have to be baristas, but they should be well-known and respected by the local coffee community. They could be former barista champions, ex-competitors, café owners, roasters, etc.
Most importantly, though, they should be people who understand how creativity, difficulty, color infusion, symmetry, and contrast all come together in great latte art. They may also need to be up to date on the world of latte art.
On a more practical note, you need three of them and you should meet beforehand to discuss the rules and criteria.
Judges need to function well under pressure. Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Decide the Rules
A fair competition needs to have rules. You don’t need to use a World Latte Art Championship score sheet, but you do have to get the judges and competitors on the same page. You could use the five points system, where you set points for contrast, definition, creativity, aesthetic beauty, and speed to judge the competitors.
Talk about the rules on your social media promo pages so the competitors can know that the competition isn’t only about how creative their pours are, but also the technical side of the judging process.
The rules aren’t just about the latte art, either: make sure you know the format inside-out. The most common setup is a head-to-head, sudden-death match where the winner advances and the loser is eliminated. Always try to use 8, 16, or 32 competitors so that the bracket runs better and every competitor has an opponent on each round.
You should print score sheets for the judges. Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Find some Volunteers
You may think you can do this yourself, but – aside from the risk of sleep-deprived insanity – you’ll be able to create a much more professional event if you rope others in. I asked Gabriel Venegas, founder of IE TNT in California, about the crucial volunteers needed in a throwdown. He recommended you get:
– Setup team
– Sign-ups person
– Bracket person
– Shot puller
– Station manager
– Clean-up team
– Photographers (optional)
– Social media correspondents (optional)
Sound like a lot? Don’t worry: people will be keen to help out at such an exciting coffee event.
Volunteering is fun – especially when it’s at a latte art throwdown. Credit: Yeli Feliciano
Nobody said it’s easy to organize a throwdown, but it is highly rewarding. And if you follow these steps, get creative, learn from your mistakes, and listen to feedback, you’re going to create a successful event. It’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to involve a lot of learning, and your local coffee community is going to become even closer.
Feature Photo Credit: Y. Feliciano.
Perfect Daily Grind.